Financial issues hit students: International service

As Keene State feels effects from recent budgetary cuts across the board, one organization has been able to reroute their cancelled opportunity around and find another.

The Keene State College Alternative Break Program on campus offers 11 community service opportunities for students during winter and spring break to help others, become educated and portray active citizenship. This year, their international trip to Nicaragua was cancelled.

Coordinator of Community Service Jessica Gagne Cloutier said the trip was cut because of budgetary reasons. She explained that the international trip is roughly five or six times more expensive than a domestic trip.

She said for the financial reasonings as to why the trip was cancelled, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Kemal Atkins would be better suited to answer these questions.

However, after multiple requests for an interview, Atkins was unavailable for comment.

Gagne Cloutier said she understands why the situation happened, but it was hard at first to grapple with. “It’s frustrating when you do everything right and you feel like you have to make one of these choices,” she said. “It’s frustrating, but I feel good about the decisions that have been made and the opportunities that we’re still able to offer to students.”

Gagne Cloutier said protecting that experience for the students is what matters most.  She said, “I think the realities of the fiscal climate that we’re in has impacted all of us, and I think across campus, we’re having to make really difficult decisions about what are the most valuable service and programs we have. How do we protect these things?”

These difficult decisions included putting the original plan of going to Nicaragua on hold and making plans to go to Tennessee instead, where Gagne Cloutier said groups will be helping with a program titled Once Upon a Time in Appalachia, an environmentally conscientious organization that motions to preserve national forests and parks.

Gagne Cloutier said in the end, it all worked out. “So that’s been the silver lining, [that we’re] still having a trip that is focused on that issue (sustainability) and that is still going to give us a strong cultural experience and the opportunity to think and learn critically and support all the good values that we have for the program,” she said.

Gagne Cloutier said she plans for the trip to Nicaragua to still be on the docket for the following year. “We’ve already penciled in with our ground partner and said, ‘Hey, when 2018 rolls around, our intention is to be with you,’” she said.

She added that in doing so, it makes things easier in the future. “Most of the time, we take months and months to plan an alternative break trip and to go back and forth with partners, and this was a really quick one and we were really lucky to find a partner,” she said.

Gagne Cloutier said that being in the realm of community service makes it easier to deal with challenges. “I think one of the realities that we all understand with service in general is that we have to be really flexible when we do this work,” she said.

Gagne Cloutier also said she was grateful for the two leaders of the trip, KSC students Sarah Crooker and Hannah Elliott.

Samantha Moore / Art Director

Samantha Moore / Art Director

“I’ve been really proud of Hannah and Sarah for the attitude that they’ve had, you know coming into this and really being true to the program, being true with themselves [and] being able to express their sadness and their frustration with me and us being able to talk though these things and come up with the best compromise we could,” Gagne Cloutier said.

Crooker declined comment and Elliot didn’t respond to requests.

One recent alumnus who was a leader himself for an international trip offered comments, but wished to be unnamed. He said he only went on two international trips. “I wish I had done some of the domestic trips, but I had other things that overlapped,” he said. This alumnus said going on these trips was inspiring and vastly different than going somewhere as a vacation spot. “You’re walking down the street and there are farms and cows and people speeding on motorcycles past you. It’s not a walk in the park.”

He said it makes sense why the international trip is more expensive and that the budget has always been tight as far as he’s known it. He said, “I [also] know it’s hard to vouch for an increased budget of only 15 students to attend, and that’s been a big problem in terms of fighting for budgets in the past.” He said when he was a student at KSC, he felt that if people had friends on the student assembly, they would get more money for their club than others would.

“I was involved [with] a lot on-campus, and I got to see a lot of budgets in a lot of places. I do think that the budgeting system in Keene State College…was very political and it was almost too student run, in my opinion,” he said. “I feel like some organizations and some clubs on-campus were given larger amounts of money than they really should have [been]. I’m not saying anybody shouldn’t get any money because that’s not fair.”

At a student assembly meeting held on Tuesday, Oct. 25, The Equinox staff reporter Meridith King reported, “Another budget request came from the Alternative Break Program, requesting a total of $2,500 to go toward the 110 or so students who attend one of the 11 trips the program offers. The motion to approve this budget was almost unanimously accepted, and it was granted to the program.”

The alumnus said he hopes the the international trip is reinstated in the future. “It’s one that should almost be a tradition of the college and it should be something that not only current students, but future students can look forward to in terms of getting involved,” he said.

He continued, however, that while an international trip might seem more exciting, that doesn’t mean a more local or domesticated trip isn’t. “We live in [a] society right now that is slightly disconnected, and to be able to understand where people in our own country are coming from, that should be empowering and motivating for students to continue to get involved, regardless or not if there’s an international label to it,” he said.

KSC first-year Kristi Dudash said it was a unfortunate about the international trip being cancelled, but that it was good the students still get to help others in need.

“I’m sure there are people overseas who need our help, but I don’t really know much about the budget,” she said. Dudash said she found the trips inspiring. “You’re networking and putting KSC’s name out there,” she said.

Lloyd’s Marketplace employee at KSC Patti Smith said she felt like perhaps there could be other ways the budget could be spent so the students could go on the trip.

While she didn’t disclose any specific examples, she did say this trip was important for the students. “The more educational things we have out there where students get to help, especially with third world countries, they should be supported,” she said. Smith also suggested fundraising for the group.

Coordinator of Community Service Gagne Cloutier said they do fundraise. She wasn’t available to confirm if it was or wasn’t enough to reach the amount needed for the trips. “We fundraise each year for the alternative break program, usually in multiple ways. This year, for example, we have two fundraisers planned,” she said.

Gagne Cloutier said regardless of the students not being able to go on the international trip, the domestic ones are just as good. She explained that in the past, it used to be that the international trip was the one to go on, but now all of the trips equally have something to offer.

“When students return from all of our trips, their learning outcomes turn out to be about the same,” she said. “We see a lot of individuals come back and they talk about how this has impacted their career exploration, so we’ve had students come back and change their majors or be really confident in their major.” Gagne Cloutier continued to say that the students who go on the trips also form relationships with the sponsors or partners involved and can get jobs or internships.

She continued, “So the down-the-road experiences that alternative break can offer in terms of building networks with community organizations and professionals across the country and around the world is really powerful.”

Dorothy England can be contacted at dengland@kscequinox.com

Other story in this featured series:

“Financial issues hit students: Affording education”

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